Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I remember, not too long ago, seeing the trailer for "Away We Go" (opened June 12 at Landmark's La Jolla Village Theaters) and I remember loving the music and really liking the feel of what looked like one in a long line of quirky, independent comedies which have cluttered cinemas over the past 5 years or so. But then all of a sudden, I saw this message flash across the screen, “From Director Sam Mendes”; all I can say is I was shocked, utterly shocked. For those who don’t understand, let me explain, Sam Mendes (an Oscar-winning filmmaker) is someone who’s lived by the golden rule of, “Thou shalt not make more than one film every three years.” Considering the fact that his last film, "Revolutionary Road," came out just a little less than six months ago, it’s clear that this is a wholly unprecedented move for Mr. Mendes. What also sets this film apart from his other films is that, unlike those he’s made before (which include "American Beauty," a film I consider one of the best ever made), Mr. Mendes has decided to approach life with less of a stark, depressed outlook, and more of a lighthearted, almost whimsical approach, while still not being afraid to take on the sometimes crushing realities of life.
The film, written by husband-and-wife team Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, tells the story of Bert (played by "The Office’s" John Krasinski) and Verona ("SNL" alum Maya Rudolph), an unmarried (because Verona doesn’t see the point in it) couple in their early 30s who suddenly find themselves with a child on the way. After learning that Bert’s parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) are planning on moving to France for the next two years, the couple decides to leave their dingy trailer home in Colorado in search of a new place to call home. Along the way, they encounter old friends, many of whom are parents themselves, and get some first-hand experience of various parenting styles, leaving both them and the audience to wonder, what defines a “family” or what makes “home” home? It’s an interesting question, especially in our modern culture where the idea of “family” means almost anything depending on who you’re asking. Over the course of the film, Bert and Verona are faced with the question of whether they are, as Verona puts it, “fuck-ups”; and as the film continues, they quickly realize that even if they are, the people around them (such as a hippie-ish, anti-stroller Maggie Gyllenhaal or an alcoholic, shockingly disinterested Alison Janney) are way more screwed up than they are. The film gradually turns away from its quirkiness and moves towards a more serious and, ultimately, a more heartfelt place as the two are forced to deal with their own issues and come to terms with who they are and who they need to be both for their future and for that of their unborn child.
The major weakness of this film is the way it overplays its own quirky “indie” nature, making many of the characters featured early in the film come off less as real people and more of unsatisfying caricatures of real people. However, Krasinski and Rudolph work wonderfully together and are so good that even when the material may not be great, they manage to never betray their characters and rise above the minor limitations to become the true heart and soul of this film. That being said, as the film moves into its final act, the weight of the circumstances, both at present and those that lie ahead, really hits these characters; the result includes a wonderful semi-marriage ceremony of exchanging “I do’s” with one another while lying on a trampoline under the stars. Likewise, the place these characters find themselves at the end is another one of the great things about this film, as it is clear these characters have grown quite a lot, yet at the same time they acknowledge all that is still to come. All in all, this is a wonderfully crafted film that becomes increasingly poignant as these characters move through their journey to finding “home," presenting a diverse range of attitudes towards family and the universal challenge of discovering what that means to and requires of oneself.
--Michael Shymon is a senior at The Bishop's School. He has had an avid passion for film since he was about 5. He enjoys acting, writing, watching movies, as well as making his own films. He will be attending NYU Tisch Film School next year and hopes that all this movie watching will one day pay off.